Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel Pro-Choice Ally

Rahm Emanuel, five-year veteran of the House of Representatives, has accepted President-Elect Obama’s offer to become his White House Chief of Staff. Emanuel is a representative of Illinois’ 5th District and is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House. He is also a White House veteran having served under former President Bill Clinton as a policy advisor. 

But Emanuel also lays claim to a strong pro-reproductive health legislative record; he has supported federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and voted against the politically-named "Partial Birth Abortion Ban" in 2003. Emanuel’s record earned him a 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America. 

And Emanuel, like Obama, favors a strong pro-prevention focus, particularly evident in his co-sponsoring of pro-active legislation. In 2007, along with both Senators Obama and Biden, Emanuel co-sponsored the Healthy People 2010 Act, a bill "to expand access to preventive health care services that help reduce unintended pregnancy, reduce abortions, and improve access to women’s health care." 

There are many reasons for reproductive and sexual health and rights advocates to celebrate Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff, a person that certainly holds the President’s ear.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America told RH Reality Check, 

"When it comes to politics, policy, and
understanding how to win both, Rahm is among the best in the business. 
President-elect Obama continues to surround himself with fantastic
talent. Given his fully pro-choice voting record, we couldn’t be happier with
the pick." 

The White House Chief of Staff is sometimes known as the "Second Most Powerful Man in Washington" because of the power he wields. For this reason, having a strong reproductive and sexual health and rights ally could be quite a coup for the advocacy community. President-Elect Obama has the potential to enact key legislation that begins to dismantle some of the harmful policies that have piled up over the last eight years. Will Emanuel support those policies and directives for which advocates are already petitioning? It seems likely. It is clear that having Emanuel as a key member of a new administration will usher in a very different perspective on reproductive and sexual health and rights than we’ve seen in the last eight years. 

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  • invalid-0

    Emanuel also has a record for wholly rejecting evidence-based prevention when it is too politically hot. For example, most HIV/AIDS advocates blame Emanuel for Clinton’s refusal to lift the ban on syringe exchange, resulting in untold numbers of new HIV infections given the overwhelming evidence that supports this intervention. Just an item of caution and a recognition that this guy has a mixed record on how science and principle become secondary if the political price is deemed too high.

  • emily-douglas

    Very interesting, Anonymous2, thanks for noting that. We’re going to be operating in a whole new world order now in which, though we have allies in power who basically support scientifically-based approaches to sexual and reproductive health care, politics may of course influence what they embrace. I dimly remember the needle exchange debates of the Clinton years and we’ll have to watch for that emerging again.

  • invalid-0

    Could someone give us the list of all the “harmful policies that have piled up over the last eight years” and the reasons why they deem them harmful? Some of us need fact vs. fiction.

  • invalid-0

    Here are just a few that have either been enacted directly by the current presidential administration, continued by this administration (and begun by former anti-choice Presidents) or simply encouraged by an anti-choice administration at the expense of women’s health and lives:

    Re-instituting by executve order the Global Gag Rule that censors what family planning/health centers abroad that receive U.S. funds can and cannot say about abortion (no matter what the laws or policies of the country in which those centers exist dictate).

    Withholding UNFPA funds for eight years (millions in family planning funds for women and families globally, despite Congress having allocated it every year).

    Preventing the FDA from making a ruling on ensuring Plan B (the morning-after pill/emergency contraception) is available to women through a pharmacy. The head of women’s health at the FDA resigned in protest at what she saw as the presidential administration’s harmful political interference into what should be solely a health issue. 

    PEPFAR’s harmful ideological positions mandating 33% of HIV prevention funds in developing nations go to abstinence-only programs proven not to work

    $1 billion in federal funding for abstinence-only programs in this country that our own government (see The Mathematica Report) , in addition to public health experts, scientists, and physicians admits do not work.

    Refusing to fund Title X – publicly funded family planning services (Title X is the most successful public health program to date) – to keep up with inflation leaving so many women and families in this country without the same means to prevent pregnancy and STIs as those with middle and higher incomes. 

    Failing to expand and properly cover needy children under SCHIP – the federal health insurance program for low-income children. Senator McCain voted against expanding this program to cover more – and more needy – children leaving millions without health insurance/health care. 

    A host of anti-safe and legal abortion laws have been passed state by state fueled, in part, by a presidential administration that has politically pandered to an extremist, anti-choice movement that helped elect said administration and encouraged anti-choice legislators across the country to act recklessly and without regard for women’s health and lives. 

    Amie Newman

    Managing Editor, RH Reality Check